StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) BtVS 9.14 'Billy the Vampire Slayer' Part I

'Billy the Vampire Slayer' is a two-part stand-alone part of Season 9, written by Jane Espenson and Drew Z Greenberg. As such, it's this season's equivalent of 'The Chain' or 'The Thrill' - at least so far, Buffy herself doesn't appear in it (though she's mentioned a couple of times); Part 1 has only original characters. I idea, I take it, is to give us an indication of what life is like in the new post-Seed, zompire-infested world for ordinary people. Having said that, I've a feeling that the eponymous Billy will go on to be a regular character on the show, which presumably means he'll have to meet the Scooby Gang at some point. The pre-publication publicity for this arc emphasised that Drew and Jane decided to create a new gay male character, to remedy the distinct lack of such in the Buffyverse so far, and it would be a bit of a let-down if he only appeared for two issues...

I understand the two writers came up with the overall idea together, but Jane wrote this particular issue and Drew will write next month's.

We begin with two teenagers, Billy and Katie, sitting on the bonnet ("hood", for Americans) of Katie's pick-up truck, which is parked in a cornfield next to the boundary fence of an airfield. They're right on the flightpath of aircraft coming in to land, which fly only a few metres over their heads. Clearly, they live in a very boring small town if this is what they do for fun.

Jane plays with our expectations from the scene twice. First by implying that the two are on a date - but that impression is quickly (and unsurprisingly) dispelled when we see the two of them are actually discussing Billy's (lack of) love-life, and the fact that he doesn't even know whether the boy he's attracted to - "cute Devon" - is gay. 

Second, it's implied that Katie might be about to be Called as a Slayer - though of course that doesn't happen any more now the Seed is broken. Instead, "This time the Slayer isn't getting any powers. And it isn't the girl". As Billy complains about his life, Katie assures him that "It get better" - implying she's a little older than him, which is also implied by the fact that she owns a truck? Billy doesn't want to wait that long, so Katie tells him he should "Make it better now". Mm-hmm.

Interlude for some sinister plot development. The aircraft that just landed was carrying a coffin - a body being repatriated home. Unfortunately, the corpse inside is a zompire; it breaks out, then kills the three ground crew who come in to empty the cargo bay. Dun dun dunnn.

Katie drops Billy off at the end of his street, and he starts to walk home through the darkness. Before he gets there, he's attacked - not by vampires, as would happen in, say, Sunnydale - but by a couple of homophobic bullies. These are Garron and Post (we learn Post's name later on). We get an infodump - Billy's surname is Lane (if only more Buffyverse characters had surnames...), he lives with his "sweet old hippie granny" because his parents kicked him out. Billy eventually gets free by wriggling out of his hoodie - which Post is holding him by - and running inside his granny's house.

Meanwhile, the zompires are spawning and multiplying: the first one sires three, then the four of them sire 16, then the 20 of them sire 45. We already know that zompires, being almost mindless (but cunning) are driven by the lust to kill and reproduce, unlike normal vampires who are more discriminating in whom they sire. The idea that four generations of zompires could rise in a single night is a new one for the Buffyverse, but I don't think it specifically contradicts anything we've been shown. The TV show was always inconsistent on how long it takes someone to rise as a vampire after they're turned;  it can be several days, but other times it was only a few hours or less. ('Helpless', for example, when Kralick basically stands there waiting for the Watcher he just bit to wake up again.) I can certainly accept that zompires generally take less time than normal vampires to rise - it fits their animal nature, and the fact that there isn't a demon actually inside them having to take control of the body and brain.

Next morning, Billy's grandmother is kind and loving, and we learn that Billy is learning how to box. Apparently by himself - he puts his own gloves on and seems to be alone in the school gymnasium - we later find out it's first thing in the morning, before most other people arrive. It's a neat bit of character-building: Billy's reaction to being bullied is not to hope for a magical solution to his problems, but to teach himself self-defence. We get a soliloquy from him where he says "You try to be strong" - a common theme of this series - but ironically, for him "there's no such thing as magic" that would give him superpowers to defend himself. He has to do it the hard way - and he's not really sure he's doing the right thing.

Then Billy trips over his own feet because 'cute Devon' comes in - because he was "just looking around", so he claims. There's some definite flirtation going on, though nothing overt, and the two boys links hand (much like Willow and Tara in 'Hush', except with less telekinesis) as Devon helps Billy back to his feet. Devon didn't realise Billy was training to fight, and suggests he should tell people about it, so they leave him alone more. (He obviously knows enough about Billy to realise he's being bullied.) Billy, though, admits he's only just started and his skills aren't really up to much as yet.

Cute Devon wear a black trenchcoat and has gelled hair which sticks straight up. Apart from the fact that he's blond, he clearly wishes he was Angel.

Meanwhile, hundreds of zompires are engaged in a bacchanalian orgy of bloodshed inside the darkness of a boarded-up video shop. (Called 'Cubesmasher'. Uh-huh.)

Later that day: Billy is walking home from school, and on the phone to Katie. We learn that hardly anybody was at school and the mall didn't open that day. Because they've all been turned into zompires, of course, but Billy doesn't know that yet. He's just telling Katie about his meeting with Devon in the gym when Garron - the bully from last night - comes up to hassle him again.

Garron pretends to be concerned about Billy - it's almost dark and "there are rumours about vampires in town". But then he blocks his path, standing in front of him so he can't get past. But Billy's had enough of this - perhaps boosted in confidence by his training session, and perhaps because Garron is alone this time. He makes a fist and prepares to punch the bully - who is not impressed...

...and a few seconds later is very dead, as a zompire rips off the back of his skull. Eww. (This scene is staged a little bit like the death of the commander in 'Alien Resurrection'.) Garron collapses, to reveal that the zompire who killed him is in fact his old friend Post.
Billy realises he's about to die too, but decides to go out fighting. His attempted last words are to thank his grandmother "for everything". 

But he doesn't die, because cute Devon was sitting on his roof watching for him - and he leans over, picks him up bodily, and hauls him up out of danger. Billy does more than that, though - as he's pulled up he kicks out at Post with all the momentum of being pulled up, and sends him flying. Billy is apparently too excited about winning the fight to wonder why Devon was lurking on his rooftop, but he invites him into his bedroom, through the nearby convenient skylight.

Here we learn that Devon knows about vampires and Slayers, and that his older sister has met Buffy. She "ran into her in a coffee shop", apparently, which makes me wonder if she was the embittered ex-Slayer who tripped Buffy up in 'Freefall'. Possibly not, though, since Devon is excited and positive about her.

Devon has apparently had the idea that Billy could become a vampire slayer himself, with "a lot of training" - at least for killing zompires, since they're dumber than regular vampires and so easier to slay. I'm not sure how well this ties in with his apparent surprise earlier in the issue that Billy was already teaching himself self-defence. But then again, his excuse for lurking in the gym wasn't very convincing, and it could be that he's known about Billy's secret training sessions for some time, but only chose to reveal himself that day.

Billy isn't convinced - he can't be a Slayer because they're Called, and he lacks the supernatural strength and skill. But at that point Post the zompire breaks in through the skylight, and there's a two-page fight scene. Post goes for Devon and gets him on the ground: Billy pulls out the drawer from his cupboard and smashes Post over the head with it, hard enough to shatter it. That only delays Post temporarily - but Billy picks up a jagged fragment of wood from the remains of the drawer, and stakes him through the heart. So he does have slayer-style resourcefulness and instincts, even if he's not a capital-S Slayer.  Bit like Dawn in 'Potential', in fact.

In a classic bit of Espenson humour, when Billy stakes Post he falls through the cloud of dust and lands on top of Devon - just as his grandmother opens the door and wonders if she's interrupting something.

Something I know has already caused questions is how Post got into his bedroom at all. I can think of three possibilities:

1. It's a continuity error.
2. Zompires don't need an invitation to enter a house, unlike normal vampires. 
3. When Billy said "That's my room. Do you want to come in?" he didn't make clear that the invitation was only for Devon - and Post was within earshot and heard the invitation too.

Admittedly 3 is a bit of a stretch, but I think it works without contradicting canon.

The final scene is a reprise of the first, but this time it's Devon instead of Katie who's with Billy, parked at the boundary fence of the airport. Instead of a pick-up truck, Devon owns a red sports car - so he's obviously from a wealthier family.

Billy is determined to make a start on slaying zompires - he's concerned that there may be hundreds, even thousands of them out there, and unless they act fast, they'll be unstoppable. There's no time to go to Buffy and ask for her help (which, it's implied, was something they were discussing). Devon is getting cold feet at the idea of thousands of zompires, but Billy knows they can't hesitate - even though in turn he's nervous about the fact that he's not a real Slayer. 

I did smile at Jane's joke about Slayers:

"They punch really hard and run really fast and they're always, always girls."
"I think you can punch like a girl and run like a girl."
"I'm taking that as a compliment."
"I meant it as one."

Devon is convinced, and offers to be the Watcher to Billy the Slayer. They clasp hands on the deal, but it definitely looks like they're holding hands, not shaking them. "Something new begins."

Before this comic came out, there was a lot of worry in fandom that the writers were "destroying the mythology" by creating a male Slayer. In the event, such worries were groundless. Billy has no supernatural powers whatsoever: he's just brave, determined, and has some training and a good instinct for fighting. By the same token, the concern some people expressed that this arc would send the message "Only women can be Slayers, but since gay men are really just women they can be Slayers too" wasn't borne out. Billy isn't doing anything that other people couldn't do too, regardless of gender or sexuality, provided they have the courage and strength.

Having said that, I did like the way the matter of his sexuality did influence the plot - and so wasn't just thrown in gratuitously for the sake of having a gay character - but in a subtle way. Billy decided to learn self-defence as a solution to homophobic bullying, and it's this training that helps him to fight zompires when he must. Plus, of course, he gets to stake his chief tormentor through the heart, which most victims of bullying never get to do. (Probably fortunately, all things considered.)

A final point: I think the last scene is meant to be at dawn, and the sun's just rising (symbolically) behind them. Unfortunately, this destroyed the theory I'd been forming all through the issue: that Devon is in fact a vampire himself - but a normal one, not a zompire, and one who plays by Harmony's Rules. Consider the evidence:
  • He wear a black trenchcoat.
  • His hair sticks straight up and is bloody stupid.
  • He knows a lot about Slayers and vampires.
  • He lurks on rooftops at night.
  • He's strong enough to pick up a 16-year old boy bodily and haul him onto the roof.
  • He doesn't enter Billy's house until Billy invites him in.
  • The artist has drawn him with significantly paler skin than Billy.
  • Until the final scene, he's never seen in daylight.
But maybe he's just a vampire fanboy instead - perhaps even specifically an Angel groupie - but one who thinks zompires, at least, need to be slayed. Or maybe we'll discover next month that he actually is a vampire, and the sunrise was either a continuity glitch, or it's not bright enough just yet to hurt him...

Tags: buffy, comics, season 9, season 9 review
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